photo courtesy of American Musuem of Natural History
July 17, 2008
Exhibit explores Darwin's impact on the world of art
What single figure had the greatest influence on modern thought? Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein all have been proposed--and found wanting. But nearly a decade ago, evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr argued for Charles Darwin, and he's a candidate likely to be revived next year with the celebration of dual anniversaries: the 200th of his birth and the 150th of the publication of his revolutionary "On the Origin of Species."
The influence of that book on biology and the philosophy of science long has been examined. Its effect on literature was addressed as early as 1910. But there had been no study of its impact on the visual arts. So "Design in the Age of Darwin: From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright," the exhibition at Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art (through Aug. 24), is an event of some importance.
The show's catalog tells us that in the 50 years following "On the Origin of Species," words used in evolutionary biology--"adaptation," "formalism," "fitness," "functionalism," "type"--occurred with as much frequency in English and North American design. The beautiful and pathbreaking exhibition illustrates how such design was linked to Darwin's revolutionary theory by spotlighting the works of six major figures.
Today we introduce them.